As we approach the one-year anniversary of the abduction of 276 girls from a Nigerian school and the three-month anniversary of the slaughter of 2,000 people in Baga, how can we explain the lack of international response to the expansion of Boko Haram?
As a British-Nigerian-American attorney and activist, I have learned a thing or two about the strength of foreign currency. My diverse background informs my worldview on the delicate dance between two of the monetary superpowers that be: the almighty American dollar and the British pound sterling. As it stands, the exchange rate for the American dollar to the British pound is $1 to £0.65, while the Nigerian Naira touts a deflated $1 to N201 exchange rate. Similar calculations plague the FOREX market when highlighting the disparate value of currency in the developed versus developing world.
This reality, coupled with my worldview, has led me to conclude that the value of human life is often determined not by its sanctity, but by the strength of a country’s currency exchange rate on the global market. Justice, for those left dangling on the “developing” end of this matrix, is therefore often fluctuating and convertible.
As a Nigerian, I have watched thousands slaughtered like sacrificial lambs in an unrelenting “holy war” against Africa’s most populous nation. Like other insidious terrorist organizations that preceded it, Boko Haram has brazenly inflicted a deplorable indictment against the Nigerian government for its alleged chorusing of Western education. Its agenda is to render Nigeria an Islamic state, and it is clear that both death and life embody its aberrant definition of victory. It has declared a caliphate (Islamic government) in portions of northeast Nigeria, an area the size of Belgium, and in April 2014, the group abducted 276 girls from their school in Chibok, many of who, it is now feared, are being used as suicide bombers.
Its recent attack in Baga, Nigeria, in January is reported to have eliminated 2,000 human lives, thus rendering the attack the group’s most deadly and widely coordinated. The insurgency has left more than 1.5 million people displaced within Nigeria, while thousands now bear refugee status in neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Although the Baga massacre occurred in the same week as France’s Charlie Hebdo attack, minimal international news coverage dignified the lives of the slain in Nigeria.
While the United States designated Boko Haram a terrorist organization in 2013 and has provided the Nigerian government with intelligence and some anti-terror training, it has reportedly not placed boots on Nigerian soil because American interests or assets have not been jeopardized. However, it is hypocritical to take this position, which dispenses a selective dose of justice on one matter or people and does not consistently maintain it across the board. Yes, we are to understand that the insidious dance between big money and political decisions is, well, complicated. So while America waits, thousands perish at the hands of a group that has also uttered direct threats against it.
Great Britain, on the other hand, proudly contends that Nigerians living there can be proud of her support for Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram. According to its foreign office minister, it has contributed to global efforts headed by the U.N. to address the threatening insurgency and humanitarian crisis in Nigeria and has expanded its resident training and advisory teams to Nigeria. However, like the United States, it has yet to utilize targeted military force, as has been the case in Syria or Iraq in that fight against Islamic State. Again, the situation is, well, complicated.
Complicated—a word that profoundly describes the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the self-proclaimed “Giant of Africa.” It currently boasts the largest economy in Africa and is a country that reportedly allocates 20 percent of its annual budget to its national defense. The foregoing begs the question of why then Nigeria has not independently come to her own rescue. Experts theorize that corruption and poor governance have led to her abject failures and impotence in the fight to overcome and eliminate Boko Haram.
An interesting phenomenon, however, starts to develop when one has repeatedly been valued, not by her humanity, but by the weakness of her currency in the foreign market. Similar to the lingering effects of colonialism, the West’s disparate value of human life has inevitably provided a prism via which Nigeria’s leadership views her own people. In other words, blinded by greed, Nigeria has adopted the West’s prevailing view that the overwhelming majority of her own citizens, particularly her women and girls, bear the value allocated by the West. This mindset explains why, approaching 365 days later, the rallying cry to “#BringBackOurGirls” appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Regardless of Nigeria’s “complications,” the war against Boko Haram remains Nigeria’s fight to lead.
The unfortunate reality is that on a global scale, the strength of one’s currency parallels what you bring to the table (assuming you were invited) and what portion of the tablecloth you ostensibly control. In other words, based on U.S. conversion rates, one Western life maintains the same value as 201 Nigerian lives, 927 Congolese lives and 2,875 Ugandan lives. A poignant example of this reality was last year’s Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Just weeks in, only two Westerners had received a potentially lifesaving drug while thousands of Africans were being infected as the death toll ultimately approached 10,000.
Justice is not convertible. It bears the resilient and hopeful face of every man, woman and child whose plight, suffering and dreams go ignored and unaccounted for. Our collective challenge is to balance the scales by maintaining a uniform definition of human life, of justice, that is undisturbed by vacillating factors that hang on the unstable pendulum of foreign exchange rates. We cannot sit idly by while 276 school girls are stolen from their school and, almost 365 days later, continue to be utilized as political pawns in a sick game.
We cannot watch 2,000 slaughtered in one country yet gather the world’s leaders in another to march arm-in-arm in a show of solidarity that dignifies the lives of 17. Why? Because ultimately convertible justice is injustice, and devaluing one facet of society will inevitably result in our collective destruction. As history has proved, peace and injustice are uncommon bedfellows, for peace will not lie in the presence of injustice for long without rising.
R. Evon Idahosa is a freelance writer, an English barrister and U.S. attorney. She is the founder and executive director of PathFinders Justice Initiative (www.pathfindersji.org ), a social justice initiative that seeks justice for female survivors of child sex abuse, sex trafficking and gender-based violence in the developing world through judicial reform, empowerment and community transformation.